LOS ANGELES — Al Gore isn't stiff, he's funny. He is moral. He puts his family first. He and his wife are so much in love they still smooch like kids — as they did when Gore stepped onto the stage to accept his nomination Thursday.
Utahns at the Democratic National Convention who know Gore say those are some things they wish other Utahns knew about him, but probably don't .
For example, Utah Democratic Party Chairwoman Meg Holbrook grew up in Tennessee. Some relatives were neighbors of Gore's parents. Holbrook knows the family so well that she sat with Gore's wife and mother in a sky box for part of the convention.
"I wish people knew how he lights up when he's around his children, and especially that grandchild of his," the Utahn said. "I wish that were something that could be conveyed on TV. It's wonderful."
Holbrook said that when Gore's son, Albert Gore III, was almost killed in a car accident 11 years ago, it forced Gore to reorder his priorities. "It really affected him. It centered him on his family and how important it is."
She said Gore obviously loves his wife "and they are pretty affectionate."
Donald Dunn, a former White House staffer who is running against Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, worked closely with Gore on several White House task forces. He says the main difference between how the public perceives him and Gore's real personality is that he is funny and warm, not stiff and wooden.
"Despite what the pundits say, he has a wonderful sense of humor," Dunn said.
He said Gore may come across as stiff because he has so many staffers trying to script his actions to prevent foul-ups so that "people don't see the real person. It's like with Bob Dole four years ago. He was a funny man, too, but we never saw that until after he lost. I hope Gore can be more himself in the campaign."
Dunn also said Gore's devotion to his family is legendary in the White House.
"Whenever one of his kids would call and he was in a meeting, staffers knew they had to give him a note or tell him they were on the phone. He would either take the call or tell them that he would call back, but he made clear that his family comes first," Dunn said.
He also said Gore's relationship with his wife, Tipper, is openly warm and affectionate. "He is moral. He and his wife are very much a team and are dedicated to the family."
Dunn said he worries that because of President Clinton's moral lapses, too many Utahns may believe Gore has similar problems.
He said, "If people could just get past Clinton and look closely at Al Gore, I think they would like what they see."
Mickey Ibarra, a Utahn who is the White House director of intergovernmental affairs, also said, "Al Gore is a good man. You can see it in the way he deals with his family and with his longtime friends and associates. He is caring. He is warm."
Ibarra also noted that the accident that almost killed Gore's son deeply affected him.
That accident came before the 1992 presidential election. "Of course, Gore ran for president in 1988. Most assumed he would run in 1992, too, but he didn't so that he could take care of his son." He ended up winning the vice presidential nomination anyway, after his son had recovered.
Of that accident, Ibarra said, "It fixed forever the priorities in his life . . . He is a God-fearing man."
Other members of Utah's delegation do not know Gore as well, but those who have met or worked with him in passing also unanimously say that Gore's reputation as stiff and wooden is wrong, at least when they met with him.
"In person he never was stiff and he has a great sense of humor," said delegate Rod Julander of Salt Lake City, who has met with Gore in smaller groups.
State Sen. Ed Mayne, D-West Valley, who has worked with Gore on trade issues, said, "Al Gore is looked at as being very stoical or boring, when in reality he is very personable, easy to work with and to talk to. There is no pretense to him. I think the (image) problem is he is trying too hard. He should just be himself."
Delegate Fae Beck of Provo said that after she met Gore once, "I was impressed with his easy manner with people. He was not wooden at all."
Delegate David Nelson, a member of the Democratic National Gay and Lesbian Advisory Council, said he met Gore at a White House reception for gay and lesbian Democrats.
"I hope that other Utahns will learn about his sense of humor and compassion and about his understanding of the intricate details about federal policies," he said.
Delegate Debbie White of Sandy said she saw Gore at a National Education Association convention and he did the Macarena in front of the group. "If a person can do the Macarena in front of that many people after all the criticism of how stiff he is . . . then he is a genuine person."